A generation with a huge sense of entitlement: Bosses complain that Millennials are spoilt, full of themselves, averse to hard work and expect ‘success on a plate’ so what does that mean for society?
One can think of few occasions less suited to an outburst of spoilt narcissism: the launch of a hospital charity appeal, a campaign for the care of desperately sick and vulnerable people.
That’s what Sally Jones, a communications consultant hired to publicise the event, presumed, anyway. Then, after weeks of hard work, she gathered her team together for a final photograph, which was to be released as part of the fundraising activity — only to be confronted by one of the youngest members of staff, a slender 28-year-old blonde, throwing an almighty hissy fit.
What, you might wonder, was the reason for the drama amid such worthwhile charitable work? After demanding to inspect the picture, the young woman lost all control, says Sally, 62.
‘She burst into hysterical tears, said the photograph made her look fat and insisted on Photoshopping herself to look thinner before she would countenance the picture being released.
‘By the time she had finished, she not only looked weirdly gaunt, but the charity banner in the background had a strange wavy appearance from the photo editing procedure.
‘I was stunned that she was so focused on her own appearance that altering the picture took precedence over any money that it might raise for those in need.
‘But, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have been at all surprised. In my experience, her generation can be entirely self-obsessed and an utter pain to work with.’
The generation of which Sally is speaking? The Millennials — those born between 1982 and 2000.
Of course, far from every young person born in these years is as foolishly self-regarding as Sally’s vain young colleague — but many view her generation as the most entitled and egotistical to date.
Indeed, increasing numbers of bosses claim ‘Millennials’ are a nightmare to employ, with 63 per cent reporting that 20-somethings and those in their early 30s require more guidance than any other age group, as well as displaying a ‘strong sense of entitlement’ and poor ‘decision-making skills’. So pronounced are these characteristics that the workplace is having to adapt to accommodate this new generation.
Last month, ITV reportedly introduced a training module specifically designed to help managers deal with Millennial behaviour, while General Sir Nick Carter, the Army’s Chief of General Staff, said it needed help recruiting these youngsters because the internet had made them ‘slightly self-interested’, a generation who ‘want to know what’s in it for them’.
So what’s caused the Millennials — less flatteringly known as Generation Me — to become known as the most entitled generation yet? And what effect are they having on society?
First, the causes. To some extent, say experts, the Millennial obsession with social media, their need for instant gratification, and the changing nature of the job market following the financial crash are culpable.
But, predominantly, this egocentric streak is caused by the Millennials’ upbringing. Raised when strict discipline was giving way to fashionable attachment parenting — which eschews routine and rules and tends to a child’s needs on demand — from an early age, Millennials were taught to put themselves first.
‘Parents didn’t challenge their children in the way they would historically have done for fear of being seen as “bad” parents,’ explains Dr Elle Boag, a social psychologist at Birmingham City University.
‘Discipline didn’t disappear, but it started being performed in softer ways, like the naughty step, which meant children no longer understood there were alternative views to their own.’
Dr Boag says this child-centric strategy not only caused behavioural problems while Millennials were growing up, but has also led to a whole society ‘entirely led’ by the younger generation.
‘Schools and universities are increasingly under pressure to follow some sort of student-led business model. Students not only believe that they’re entitled to voice their point of view, but that theirs is the only valid view. This attitude has bled into the workplace.’
Sally Jones, the PR whose young colleague burst into tears over the charity picture, agrees wholeheartedly. And that’s despite being the mother of two Millennials herself: son Roland, 26, is a management consultant, and daughter Madeline, 24, an adviser for an economic think-tank.
‘But I brought my children up with boundaries, and as a result they don’t believe the world owes them a living,’ says Sally, from Ashorne, Warwickshire, who is married to John, 76, a retired civil engineer. ‘However many of their peers were spoilt, so it’s no surprise many now feel entitled. I’ve worked with Millennials who have brazenly taken credit for my ideas and actually answered personal phone calls as I’ve been briefing them. They’ve had conversations under my nose, not even bothering to hide the fact they’re not listening to me.
‘Their lack of respect for me stems from the fact they don’t respect their own parents, who have kow-towed to their every demand. I’m much more careful about choosing which Millennials I work with now. Their sense of privilege is extraordinary.’
Yet despite such criticism, many Millennials remain resolute that the world of education and employment should adapt to their rules. Or, as privately educated Samantha Perry, 21, puts it: ‘Everyone has a right to career fulfilment and a job they enjoy.’
And it’s with this ethos very much in mind that she’s embarked on the world of work. After dropping out of her university degree in prosthetics and wig-making after a year, she set up a freelance face-painting business — much to the despair of her mother Dani, 54, a teacher.
‘My mum has law and psychology degrees and doesn’t see face-painting as a career. She doesn’t realise how much work goes into what I do. This is a skill, like being a doctor or a teacher.’
Samantha — who lives with her boyfriend John, 23, an IT support worker, and his parents — combines face-painting with work as a nanny, earning between £1,500 and £3,000 a month. She insists she’s made the right choices because, she testifies, she is utterly unsuited to an office environment, despite the financial investment in her education.
‘Like a lot of the younger generation, I have a poor attention span. I couldn’t think of anything worse than going into an office every day,’ she says.
‘I wouldn’t know how to handle it. I get so bored. And I like being my own boss. Ideally, in ten years’ time I’ll have a face-painting company with a team of ten employees.’
Samantha’s friends, meanwhile, are similarly reluctant to find themselves a ‘proper’ job: ‘A lot of friends of mine have fashion and make-up blogs — they think if others can find fame this way, then so can they, without training.’
James Roberts, manager at Progressive Travel Recruitment, a recruitment agency for the travel industry, has first-hand experience of the diva behaviour of Millennials. ‘They require, and believe they deserve, a great deal more attention from their bosses than other generations,’ he says.
So full of self-regard are Millennials, says Roberts, that they see their very presence in a company as a privilege for their employer.
Whereas once the onus would have been on a prospective employee to impress bosses, for Millennials it’s the other way round. Before they will consider applying for a job, they’ll examine company’s employee reviews on websites such as Glassdoor (Slogan: ‘Find the job that fits your life’. Heaven forbid that the Millennials would tailor their lives to the needs of their employer!).
Websites like these are filled with disgruntled staff angered at being reprimanded by their bosses.
‘They feel they can pick and choose,’ says Roberts, 41, from Stirling.
‘They have higher expectations in terms of salary. I have to convince them to be realistic, that they won’t walk into entry-level jobs paying £50,000 a year. Some are receptive — but others tell me that there’s no way they’re taking any job with less than a £10,000 increase from their current salary.
‘Others have turned down job offers because they want the word “manager” in their title — a fixation older generations just didn’t have.’ One would hope their demands meant they had a lot to offer in return. Alas, that’s not always the case, as Roberts reveals: ‘Millennials’ ability to handle stress is lower. My generation would be much more willing to work weekends and evenings. They’re much less likely to be flexible, and they don’t work well in a hierarchical set-up. They want everyone to be treated equally.’
Roberts says Millennials are most receptive to being recruited with a Tweet or a Facebook message than a straightforward phone call, (or even, perish the thought, a letter).
And, indeed, the online world has only fuelled Millennials’ sense of self-importance. After all, they’ve witnessed some of their peers ascend to ‘celebrity’, thanks to Instagram and Twitter — witness the success of beauty blogger ‘Zoella’, aka Zoe Sugg, 26, and healthy eating guru Ella Mills, 25.
If they’ve managed to win wealth, fame and fortune without having to set foot in an office or slog their way up from the bottom rung, why, goes the Millennials’ thinking, can’t they? To them, climbing a conventional career ladder seems drearily passé.
‘The cyber age has created instant celebrity and provided a platform that allows connection with mass audiences. Young adults mistakenly think they can make a fortune this way,’ says psychologist Emma Kenny.
She says there are two ‘extremes’ of Millennial personality: narcissists (one recent study found 26 per cent of female Millennials care more about their weight than their career) and those with chronic low self-esteem.
‘They either feel unworthy because they’re unwilling to put themselves in front of their smartphone camera, or they become obsessed with personal branding and self-promotion.’
A toxic mix, then, for employers to navigate when hiring young people, as Marianne Miles has discovered.
She has interviewed 15 20-somethings for assistant and admin jobs at the digital media management company she owns.
Without exception, all have disappointed. Marianne is scathing about their capabilities: ‘Millennials are lazy and think basic tasks are beneath them. One didn’t even bother sending me a CV. Instead, she sent me a link to a website showing information on what she thought was the going rate for assistants, and said what I was offering was too low. It wasn’t — it was standard.
One didn’t know how to format a spreadsheet and another called in sick ten minutes before her interview and asked if she could come and see me two days later, on a Saturday evening, instead.
When I said no, she posted comments on my Instagram feed warning everyone not to apply for a job with me.’
The only Millennial she did end up employing, a 22-year-old graduate who worked for Marianne, 42, in 2015, lasted just a week.
‘On her first Friday, she told me that a friend had died. Concerned, I asked if she wanted to go home. She said she wanted to stay, which I said was fine as long as she continued to work. Instead, she spent the whole day on Facebook, so at the end of the day, I told her not to come back.
‘The following Monday, the girl’s mother called to berate me for firing her daughter. I couldn’t believe it. I said that I had been more than happy for her to go home — but that if she wanted to stay and be paid, she had to work. Is that really too much to ask?’
Fed up with their antics, Marianne took drastic action: ‘I have given up hiring Millennials now. I employ older women on a freelance basis — they are much more diligent.
‘We’ve created a culture where everyone wants to be at the top of their tree. But at the age of 22, that’s simply not possible.’
Not according to Elle Edwards, the self-proclaimed ‘voice of the professional Millennial’ who is about to launch a blog urging business leaders to ‘harness the Millennial mindset’ — which, in layman’s terms, appears to mean promoting 20-somethings at the first available opportunity.
‘There has been a massive switch from [following a] career path to [instead focusing on] skillset behaviour,’ says Elle, 28, who also works as a consultant in the technology and consumer industry.
‘Managers are looking for performance rather than years spent in a job. Millennials have had to live through financial crisis and claim ownership of their careers quickly.
‘It is ignorant to stereotype an entire generation with inaccurate labels. I heartily disagree that we are self-centred and lazy. We want to have an impact in the workplace.’
All well and good — but so might a middle-aged employee who has been working their way up the career ladder for years.
Can Elle see how this promotional strategy might grate? ‘It’s easy to feel threatened by Millennial ambition,’ she concedes.
‘But businesses that don’t reinvent for this mindset are losing talent. A lot of people sit in a job for years and aren’t effective. This is a meritocratic, performance-driven world.’
But as well as meritocracy, many Millennials are insistent that their workplace should be one filled with beanbags and clean-eating cafes offering free artisan food.
The increasing popularity of American companies such as Google — whose London HQ boasts chill-out areas, a secret garden, and a Flower Power boardroom — mean work is not viewed so much as a way to earn a living as a lavish lifestyle choice.
‘Millennials expect a company to offer more than just money,’ says Helen Pritchard, managing director of Blue Sky Digital Marketing, an agency in Warrington, Cheshire, that runs recruitment campaigns targeting this age-group.
‘It’s all about wellbeing and development. Millennials don’t want to work in cubicles. They want open-plan offices and high ceilings. They hear about staff riding around on scooters and ball pools in boardrooms and feel that there are bigger opportunities.’
To older generations, who have lived through war and austerity, such a list of demands might seem spoilt. But to the Millennials it is entirely normal.
As Samantha Perry, the freelance face-painter who dreams of having her own company, puts it: ‘We are the future. Perhaps the world needs to adapt and accept what we have to offer.’